Carping about “Soldiers’ Pay”

While looking for something completely different, I ran across this letter from Larry McMurtry. He’s worried about a set of first editions that he had donated to the library and that they are not getting the care they deserve. He asks for them to be moved to the rare book room, which was the Kyle Morrow Room. The head librarian’s response is that there isn’t room, but it does seem like Hardin Craig, Jr. did do something.

Page 1 of letter. The letter is summed up in the text of the blog post.
Page 2 of letter. The letter is summed up in the text of the blog post. Letter is signed by Larry McMurtry

Although the slip cover is damaged, this is most likely the first edition that McMurtry referred to. Based on this image via AbeBooks, our cover has faded over the years. McMurtry’s book has some wear and tear, but we’re keeping it safe now.

Cover of Soldier's Pay. Arch design is purple with fading along the edges. The bottom of the paper cover is bent and torn.

Huxley and Evolution

As archivists, one of our tasks is reference, not just in-person in the reading room but via email. Over the last several years, we’ve been working with Alison Bashford. She did archival research in the various Huxley collections pre-Covid. While she was finalizing her manuscript, An Intimate History of Evolution: The Story of the Huxley Family, we, more specifically our former processing archivist Gabby Parker, assisted with scanning and reference checking. Amanda Focke assisted in permissions for images for the Huxley papers.

Although this work sometimes flies under the radar, Alison Bashford was kind enough to thank Amanda and Gabby in the acknowledgements. In addition, the gift book Bashford sent will be added to the Huxley rare book collection.

We’re happy that our work could in a small way contribute to greater scholarship.

Spooky Andreas Gryphius

Spine of book with vellum cover

Because of another issue, which might eventually make it into a blog post, I discovered this frightfully weird book Freuden- und Trauer-Spiele auch Oden und Sonnette. I can’t tell you what it’s about other than it’s German and written by Andreas Gryphius.

Cover page with German title

It does have a delightfully spooky and very perplexing frontispiece.

Frontispiece with a woman holding a piece of paper with the author's name and the title of the book, a winged man holding a torch, a cherub crying, and a skeleton on one knee toasting them.
What is going on here?

Because notations are always fascinating, inside the front cover is an outline of some sort.

Handwritten notes in German

Watson Mystery Solved, Part 2

If you remember back a few weeks ago, we had re-discovered a collection of books by William Watson. We figured out why his book became dispersed. Warning it’s a bit technical. In the online library catalog, some of our onsite rare books can be identified by location as WRC – [name of collection]. When Watson lived on the shelves in the Woodson, the collection was safe and a distinct unit both physically on the shelves and in the catalog.

But…Watson moved offsite to the Library Service Center. When that happened, the location designation changed to LSC-WRC and that’s it. With the location change, what tethered the collection together (proximity and the Watson location name) fell apart. There’s only one other rare book collection that lives offsite and that one has a special note that ties the collection together.

stack of books
Complete set of Odes and Other Poems

Lauren DuBois, trusty cataloger, is now ordering the books by title (There are multiple editions for each title.) and making the requisite changes in the catalog as well as providing more descriptive updates. For example, Watson wrote two poems (published elsewhere) into the first couple of pages one of the books.

But folks, that’s not all. We temporarily proved Rudyard Kipling wrong.

Newspaper clipping: Mr. Rudyard Kipling said of Sir William Watson last night: "He did magnificent work. He never wrote a bad line. His work has gone to the general account and will never be lost."

The Watson books, which now formally go by the title the James Wade Rockwell collection of William Watson poetry, will become a complete collection again (not lost) with a proper title including the donor’s name.

My Dear Watson, Part 1

Headshot of William Watson. A white man with a large moustache, probably in his 20s.
William Watson, 1858-1935

Last week we encountered a big mystery at the Woodson. After trying to make this rare book page look pretty with non-pixelated tiles, we realized there were only three books in the William Watson rare books collection. Usually, our rare book collections contain more than three books, more like 100 or more. The books themselves didn’t make sense, one is by Watson, one by John Dunne, and one by Thomas Otway.

We realized that we couldn’t even find this mystery collection in the Woodson, where the vast majority of our named rare book collections lived. What was going on?

We realized that we do have the William Watson papers, purchased in 1972, which is a rather small collection of items from the poet. We looked in the control folder (where we keep information about purchasing, etc.) and discovered that there was a rare book catalog which contained a list of Watson books with checkmarks and other notations next to them. Typically, our named rare book collections are named for the donor and not for the writer(s) covered in the grouping. There was a bookplate in the folder, which provided a name for the potential donor of the books, James Wade Rockwell via the Rockwell Fund.

Fingers holding a book plate

There are a bunch of Watson books offsite, but would they have been part of the original Watson collection? We had to order them to find out.

We selected one title, Excursions in Criticism: Being Some Prose Recreations Of A Rhymer (1893), as well as ordered the Watson book that was already part of his collection entitled The Hope of the World and Other Poems (1898), and the John Dunne book.

Let’s start with Excursions.

While the book is not fancy, it contains three bookplates, including the Rockwell tucked into the back pages. In the rare books, we place paper ID slips with call numbers. The slip included the name Watson on it, which would be typical of a rare book collection.

The Hope of the World, listed as part of the Watson book collection, contains an inscription from Watson to the meteorologist Rollo Russell. It also had a Rockwell bookplate.

The Dunne book had nothing to link it to Watson like the ID slip or a bookplate. It did have a bookplate demarcating that it had some from Edgar Odell Lovett’s library. Looks like this might need to be removed from the Watson collection.

For our next steps, we are going to continue ordering the rest of the Watson books from offsite and inspect them to see if they belong in the Watson rare book collection. There might also be supplemental materials, too. I’ll write with another update when or if we learn more.

If you’re wondering why this happened, most likely information was lost when the info moved from the card catalog to a library information system (computer program) or during data migrations to new library information systems.

New Book Collection Just Dropped

We’ve spent the past year combing through thousands of books generously donated to us by Dr. Gilbert Cuthbertson. Read our previous blog post here. And we’re excited to let you know that some of his rare and unusual books are now available for viewing.

Have you checked out our rare book collections online before? You can browse special collections by going to OneSearch at Fondren Library.

Click the icon with three dots […] at the top and select Collection Discovery. Then select the Woodson Research Center tile to view the special book collections.

Click the Cuthbertson tile to browse the Gilbert Morris Cuthbertson Collection of Rare Books and Manuscripts. If you find an available book you’d like to view in person, just contact one of our staff to schedule a visit to the WRC Reading Room. 

Screenshot of the Cuthbertson rare book page. Each book has a tile with the book's image and title.

Keep your eyes peeled for new books from Doc’s collection added every day!

Michael Field

A selection of 5 Michael Field books

We have a large assortment of books by Michael Field, the pen name of the couple Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper. They were friends with Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. Ricketts contributed to the designs of many of their books as well as published some of their work. Below is a small selection of Field’s work that we have in our Ricketts and Shannon rare book collection.

The Tragic Mary, 1890

Front cover of The Tragic Mary featuring flowers, plants, and other art nouveau decorations

Fair Rosamund, 1897

The Race of Leaves, 1901

Wild Honey from Various Thyme, 1908 – This one includes what looks like an additional poem written by Michael Field. The writing style matches the one in their journals.

Dedicated, 1914 – This book is a posthumous collection of Edith Cooper’s poems assembled by Bradley.

If you’d like to read more about the Ricketts books for Michael Field, check out this older blog by Paul Van Capelleveen, curator of the National Library of the Netherlands. Furthermore, if you want to go down the Michael Field wormhole, Darthmouth has digitized their diaries.

Space City! and KPFT Books

Donors have recently given us two Houston-specific books, which we’ll be adding to our rare books collection. The first is Exploring Space City!: Houston’s Historic Underground Newspaper edited by Thorne Dreyer, Alice Embree, Cam Duncan, and Sherwood Bishop. The book re-prints notable articles, interviews, photography, art, and ads from Space City!, which ran from 1969-1972.

If you want to learn more about Fanny, check out a very interesting podcast episode from Lost Notes.

The other Houston book is Live on Lovett Blvd.: Portraits of Musical Guests at KPFT Radio, 2010-2018 by David Britton. The book documents the talent that has graced the radio station’s, now former (or soon to be former), funky house on Lovett Blvd.

Below are a sampling of Britton’s photographs including the late Eric Taylor, Vince Bell, and the trio of Tim Easton, Betty Soo, and Will Sexton.

The Royal Math Book

Vellum cover with decorative detail
Beautiful vellum cover, which is in good condition

Princes of Orange need to learn math, too, and maybe he/they did using this early-mid 1600s math book. While I would definitely admit that math is not my strong suit, I have to say that none of this makes much sense to me.

There is a little explanatory material about the book in French.

Last used page of book featuring a paragraph written in calligraphy that ends with "fin."

Maybe there’s a bit more information on the last page.

Forgive the dreaded cell phone shadow.

If you want to get into the specifics about the Orange lineage, technically whatever prince or very important child used this, they weren’t technically from the original line. It had ended around 100 years earlier with René of Chalon. If you don’t want to a deep dive into the Oranges, then enjoy some painted doodles.

Impossible Exhibits

We recently updated our exhibits around the library. One which is located in the metal hallway, in the front cases near the main entrance, and the 3rd floor next to the Kyle Morrow Room is in conjunction with Archives of the Impossible conference. If you want to read more about the archives, Wired published an article about Jacques Vallée and his papers.

Inside the Woodson is an example of Covid-related art that has been donated.

Outside Woodson and across from the central elevator are exhibits of James Fraher’s photography for the books Zydeco in Texas and Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues written by Roger Wood. The focus is on the Black women highlighted in the books.

As always, please forgive the exhibit case photos. With all of the glass and without great equipment, they are hard to make pretty.